Afghanistan is still worth fighting for
A Q&A with foreign affairs scholar Francis Fukuyama
Nathan Gardels: President Obama has stated the US objective in Afghanistan is "disrupting, defeating and dismantling Al Qaeda." Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates has said that we are not seeking to build some democratic "Valhalla" there. Yet, now a new surge of troops is being called for to "stabilize" and "hold" areas until effective governance can take place. Yet, the recent election disputes clearly show that is not coming any time soon. Isn't this, therefore, mission creep toward nation-building and a long commitment in the wrong place, especially since the consensus among intelligence officials is that Al Qaeda has now moved to Pakistan?Skip to next paragraph
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Francis Fukuyama: No, this isn't mission creep, this is just good counterinsurgency warfare. Counterinsurgency is a political strategy for winning hearts and minds, and you can't do that without effective governance.
Gardels: Secretary Gates has also said that [NATO commander in Afghanistan] General [Stanley] McChrystal's new counterinsurgency strategy – avoid killing civilians, clear and hold – will have a year to show that it is working. We've been here before watching the mujahideen fighting the Soviets. A year is less than a moment to the Taliban who are still fighting against the contamination of Buddhism millennia ago, not to speak of the Soviet infidels only a couple of decades ago. Surely they will wait out any surge and just return later?
Fukuyama: The other dynamic variable that needs to be taken into account is the strengthening of the Afghan state. We haven't made nearly the progress that we should have due to lack of attention, resources, false starts (particularly with the police), but it's not an impossible task to imagine it filling the existing vacuum.
Gardels: Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul during the Soviet invasion, simply says that the US presence, by generating Pashtun tribal/nationalist resistance in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and driving them into the hands of the Taliban, is more the problem than the solution. In his view, more troops will only exacerbate the sense of occupation, creating more resistance. Musn't you agree?
Fukuyama: That's obviously true to some extent, but the real question is whether our interests will be better served by being in or out. On balance, I think they still favor our being in.